Thursday, June 9, 2016

Song of the Day #318 - George Narvaez - Backseat Freestyle

Goddamn I feel amazing, damn I'm in the matrix

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-G9i_Y6NSc

I did a "top 10 songs list" for April Fools day that was a joke insofar as those were not literally my 10 favorite songs of all time. But, and I hope this was obvious, they are actually all songs I genuinely like and have heard dozens of times, especially because - not in spite of the fact - that they're so silly. This was most true for the 1st place entry, and the sadness I felt when I saw that the video was gone was no joke. I really genuinely like this song and I hope I can talk about in a way that you might like it too. This is, of course, the point of every Song of the Day post, but I can acknowledge that I might have an uphill battle with this one.

First I do have to admit that I generally hate this "genre" of acoustic covers of hip hop songs; and I mean really truly hate, an emotion so rare and bizarre to me that I actually go out of my way to seek it out. I'm not gonna suggest it's healthy, but it's a pretty fun little game: search for your favorite songs on Youtube with "acoustic cover", watch as what was once a fun and exciting track is bled dry before your eyes, read the comments that say "better than the original", feel one small part of yourself suddenly and irrationally lost to a sort of primal anger, and then laugh at that part with the remaining 95%. Good fun, at least if you're into the general idea of internet-masochism.

It was while playing this "game" that I first discovered this Backseat Freestyle cover, this venerable masterpiece. And again, I have to admit, I wasn't immediately smitten. I wasn't upset either, though. Just... fascinated. It was so surreal, so nonsensical... all the production values: the really excellent sound quality, the multiple camera angles, his little title card at the beginning... and his performance, too: so clearly rehearsed, all the little nuances, so expertly composed, the slight gleam of sweat and the way he loses himself on occasion, bobbing his head or closing his eyes, the way he swears and says the n-word so unabashedly... clearly, a whole lot of work was put in to this, and a lot of love.

And yet at not one occasion did it ever occur to him that the idea seemed to be objectively nonsense. An acoustic cover of "Backseat Freestyle". It's like the punchline to some joke. And yeah, I indulged in just how crazy this was, linking it to many friends, partially just to confirm that it wasn't just some complex hallucination. I said stuff like "it sounds like this guy doesn't actually know English and has been lied to about what he is singing" or "this has to be some sort of joke". I listened to it... a lot, like, dozens and dozens of times, and the mystery never diminished.

It only made sense after I caught myself singing it idly, and realized that I truly loved it. Not as much as the original, or in any way comparable to the original, but in an entirely new way, in a way that perhaps I had never loved anything before. And, moreover, that he loved the original, really loved it, and probably understood it on some level beyond rationality, on some inspiring level that compelled him to pick up his guitar. I'll try to help you reach this conclusion too.

I think the key moment is at 2:25, at that godlike bridge, where, on the original, Kendrick "pulls a Kanye" and doubles down on his own structure with confidence that you're feeling it as much as he is (I call this "the Kanye"), going absolutely the fuck in, and George Narvaez, in his own unique way, wants to bring that exact same confidence and energy to his own track. I think this is the key difference between this and all those other garbage acoustic rap covers... most of them are fueled by some sort of ironic distance, where the emotions of the rapper need to be "translated" or "articulated" into an "understandable" form, and much of the appeal is the distance between the initial mode and the "acceptable" form... Jesus, I can't bring myself to write any more about this. Just look at this, also a cover of Backseat Freestyle, which is... when I was a kid, one of my biggest fears was going deaf and blind, but now I can take comfort in the fact that there would be zero chance I would ever have to hear or see it again.

But George Narvaez isn't like that. He isn't attempting to transform Backseat Freestyle into the language of the white lamestream audiences, he's expressing this energy that he's understood and loves in the mode that is accessible to him. He really and truly loses himself in the music, into bringing to fruition Kendrick's dream. It feels very pure and wonderful to me.

It was too good for the world, though. A few months after I found it, Vice published some article of horrible acoustic covers that included my beloved Backseat Freestyle, and the hate started pouring in. I don't mind some of Vice's content but their community is disgusting. I don't see how they couldn't notice the huge conceptual and ideological differences between Narvaez's song and the others (which are awful). Even their "snide remark" for it is just a frowny face, suggesting that maybe they were also going through these gigantic paradigm shifts in mentality. Maybe eventually they would have come to understand.

Before that, though, the amount of negative comments made Narvaez de-list it. This is a tragedy. Regardless of if I've convinced you of the magical unique beauty of this cover, you should agree that this is not OK. In fact, I'll even go as far as to agree with the haters that this was unquestionably a strange choice, and that his use of the n-word reflects some pretty problematic mentality, but even then, even if there was nothing beyond this, this sort of e-bullying is really unacceptable. Even if you're just in it for "cringe content", or the (probably functionally identical) "internet masochism" I indulge in, why would you want to shame these creators into not providing more?

I dunno. I'm probably hypocritical about this on some level. Who knows. Anyways, I reached out to George Narvaez on his Facebook page, an unprecedented move for me (I'm terrified of interacting with my idols) and told him how much I missed the video. And now it's back! It's back, it's back! I don't want to take all of the credit or anything, I'm sure there were other fans who let themselves be heard, but... even if I was 1% responsible, it is the greatest deed of my life and I am guaranteed into heaven/nirvana/valhalla/olympus/whatever.

Sorry, sorry. I shouldn't go in on this sort of hyperbolic praise. It devalues the whole thing. I'm not being ironic here, but I think irony is somehow involved in my appreciation of it. It busts through the saturation of ironic despair that clouds my perception of almost everything besides art, and through the panoptimistic omnilove haze that defines my hunger to consume art, and, most drastically, through my intoxicating hatred for twee acoustic covers of songs I love. It makes me feel like a lot of things are possible in life.

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